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Pittsburgh dominating global artificial intelligence competition

Aaron Aupperlee
| Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, 1:45 p.m.
Pittsburgh had more teams than any other city in the country move to the next round of the $5 million IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.
Photo provided by XPRIZE
Pittsburgh had more teams than any other city in the country move to the next round of the $5 million IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.
Ellie Gordon, a co-founder of Behaivior, talks about her company during a celebration at Ascender on Dec. 12, 2017.
Photo from Ascender
Ellie Gordon, a co-founder of Behaivior, talks about her company during a celebration at Ascender on Dec. 12, 2017.

Pittsburgh isn't just a hotbed for artificial intelligence research and development.

The city is also tops in the nation for coming up with ways to use the new technology.

Pittsburgh had more teams than any other city in the country move to the next round of the $5 million IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.

"AI can be applied to so many different fields," Amir Banifatemi, prize lead for competition, told the Tribune-Review. "The goal of the prize is to really showcase the hard problems that can be solved with artificial intelligence and can be achieved with collaboration between man and machine."

Unlike other XPRIZE competitions that have a narrow focus and strict set of rules, the AI XPRIZE is wide open, allowing teams to choose the problem they want to solve.

Pittsburgh had seven teams advance to the next round, more than Asia and Australia combined and second only to Montreal. The teams are using artificial intelligence to fight addiction to opioids, help patients suffering from Alzheimer's and memory loss, improve education, increase recycling and combat sex trafficking.

"It's across the entire spectrum of things," said Kenny Chen, the AI XPRIZE ambassador in Pittsburgh and the program director at Ascender, the startup incubator and accelerator hub. "But it is all still reflective of this Pittsburgh ethos of not just driving cutting technological innovation but also tying it back to more important societal missions."

The seven Pittsburgh teams are Behaivior , BlipIQ , Choitek , CleanRobotics , Expii , Marinus Analytics and SCAD AI .

MORE: Marinus Analytics offers new tool to help police combat human trafficking

MORE: CleanRobotics' Trashbot is going to clean up city hall in Pittsburgh

The AI XPRIZE whittled down the original 147 teams to just 59 this month. The remaining teams represent 14 different countries. A Pittsburgh team was also named one of the top 10 teams remaining in the competition.

Behaivior uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to alert someone recovering from opioid addition when they are most vulnerable to relapsing so they can seek help. The company uses a wearable — "like a fancy Fitbit," said co-founder Ellie Gordon — to monitor heart rate, motion and other biological markers that could indicate someone is craving heroin or another drug. Jeremy Guttman, another founder, said things like smoking more cigarettes than usual, tracked by motion, or an elevated heart rate, could indicate a craving or vulnerable situation. Behaivior's technology would then alert that person's support network, like a narcotics anonymous sponsor, and send them a photo and message to motivate that person to stay strong. Guttman said the photo could be the picture of a son or daughter and the message could come from them.

"One of the greatest things about artificial intelligence is that it can find patterns that humans cannot see themselves," Guttman said.

The Behaivior team. From left: Jeremy Guttman, Ellie Gordon, Ryan O'Shea

Gordon said the company hears from people every day whose friends and family are struggling with opioids.

"It's really frustrating to hear from people who are suffering," Gordon said. "They just don't have the tools that they need."

Banifatemi said Behaivior picked a critical challenge to work on.

"It is going to touch more than one city," Banifatemi said. "It is going to touch cities everywhere."

Pittsburgh's dominance in the AI XPRIZE is part of the city's overall success in the competitions. Astrobotic, a Strip District company aiming to start a delivery service to the Moon in 2020, was considered a front-runner to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE , a race to land a rover on the moon, until it dropped out of the competition.

RoboTutor, a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off company developing an app that uses facial analysis and machine learning to help teach math and reading, is one of five finalists in the $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE .

And Hera Global Tech is one of 21 semifinalists competing in the Anu & Naveen Jain Women's Safety XPRIZE. The competition challenges teams to tackle violence and harassment against women by developing a device that autonomously and inconspicuously sends information to a network of support and community responders when a woman is in trouble. The device cannot cost more than $40.

Hera Global Tech uses sensors placed on the body to monitor body motion, heart rate and other information. It uses machine learning to determine when that information signals that the wearer is in trouble and automatically alerts a support and response network, Chen said. The company is based in Pittsburgh with at least one employee working out of India.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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